A Mary Tail

By Desert Mouse

Bathhouse one stood in ruins. While the work crews tried to repair it; evidence of last week's disaster remained strong. It would be another week before the plumbing got fixed and even longer before the baths could be retiled. 

The twins Nina and Mina Munro had a different job today than usual. They were supposed to be on laundry duty but yesterday they got caught goofing off to watch the men work on the bath house. As punishment they were assigned to help; they were given the task of repainting the interior walls. 

"What if they made us help the men?" Nina suggested while they painted.

"That would never happen." Mina replied giving her sister a strange look. The colony had strict job assignments based off what some planner had decided was ideal gender roles. Many in the colony found it frustrating; but the twins didn't care enough to decide if they did.

"I'm glad it wouldn't happen; this is much more fun then laundry or building." Nina laughed

Mina smiled at her and stopped painting to take a look at their work. She stood at an angle in order to see the secret they thought would be fun to create.

"It's kind of sad that tomorrow we will have to finish, and paint over this." She said looking at the hidden image. The sections that remain unpainted combined with the areas that have been given a second coating already; formed the image of two cats being held at sword point by several soldiers. One soldier approached the two cats holding shackles.

Mina picked up the tail that was growing behind her; she didn't know how much longer it was going to grow but it already reached down to her knees. There was very little doubt in the twins mind now about what the daily sessions were doing to them.

"It looks better then..." Mina started, her voice trailed off and her twin sister finished.

"We expected." Nina chuckled. 
"Our artistic talents could use some work, even without trying to make the image hidden." 

"The session will start soon." Mina brought up. Fatigue weakened her voice but she gave her sister a curious grin.

"We should pack up. And finish tomorrow." Nina continued. 
"If we fell into the paint during the session, we will just make a mess."

The two of them started to pack everything up; closing the leftover paint and washing out the brushes they used. They made it out of the bath house and back to their dorm with plenty of time left to spare. From the second floor of their dorm they watched the warlocks gather around the colonies outer wall.

"It's going to start soon." Mina said looking past the wall to something that Nina couldn't see. Outside the warlocks spread their arms out and begun chanting for focus.  She turned her attention from the wall to where she could see bathhouse two, and just a small portion of bathhouse one. 

"Do you think we should admit responsibly?" Mina asked. Her sister turned to look at her.

"I thought about that earlier. We haven't gotten caught in awhile; but I don't think they would believe us. What happened was well beyond what we intended." Nina replied. 
"Besides what fun is getting caught if we just walk up to them and say we did it." She grinned.

"Of course you're right. What was I thinking?"Mina said quietly. Her voice trailed off near the end.

"What do you see out there?" Nina asked; her sister was distracted by something outside but she couldn't see it herself.

"Just our prison." Mina sighed.

"It's not that bad." Nina suggested.
"They don't beat us, and the foods better then when they held us in Sutherland."

"They keep us locked away from the world." Mina countered. As she spoke she heard the faint chanting from the top of the walls; her body became warm but this was all normal. It was the first stage of the sessions, and it happened to everyone.

"We have almost free reign of the colony. We don't have to spend our days in a small cell." Nina tried to point out. 

"In turn we are submitted to these sessions." Mina replied. Her body was now burning but she tried to keep it off her face. Her sister didn't look like she was having as much pain so she didn't want Nina to worry.

"There isn't much we can do about that. But aren't you curious why they are turning us into cats?" Nina asked.

"You know I am but it's hard to enjoy the process when it's so distracting. And we were never asked if we wanted to be changed." Mina replied.

"What about some of the people here? Most of them try to be nice; like Amanda. And our bunk mate." Nina suggested.

"The work is long, and hard. We only get to rest in the evening." Mina said.

"How would that have been different anywhere else? Even at home we had lots of chores to do. Only now we have some options to skip some we don't like." Nina grinned at her. Mina knew that she was referring to how they got off kitchen duty; and had been given a break from laundry more recently. 

"It's hard to find privacy here. We don't bath alone; or sleep alone. We can't even eat alone." Mina replied. She was starting to breath heavily and the burning got worse. It had never been like this before.

"Do we really need to do those things alone? I miss having a quiet bath with just the two of us; or talking each other to sleep at night. But we can still find places in the colony to be alone. Just not at those times." Nina replied. To demonstrate she waved her arm around the empty dorm room.

"Locked in the forest we can't see the moo..." Mina's voice cut off as her vision seemed to cave in. she held her arms out to break her fall; but she wasn't falling. 

"What's wrong Moonlight?" Nina tried to ask. But Mina wasn't able to respond. She couldn't hear the question; and she couldn't find her voice. She felt like her head was weaving around uncontrollably even as it sat stable on her neck. Then as she tried to keep a single thought in focus; her vision narrowed until everything went black and she really did fall.

Nina rushed to her sister's side after helplessly watching her thump to the ground. She felt Mina's forehead; it was burning. Her sister seemed to be breathing; that was a good sign at least. Worried she shook her sister gently. "Mina are you ok? Wake up." She spoke softly. But her sister didn't respond; after several minutes of this, and having no success. Nina picked her sister off the floor and helped her into her bed. "Moonlight you should have said something. Well then rest now and you will be better tomorrow." Nina thought pulling the blanket over her sister. She was worried but there was no doubt in her mind that by morning her twin would be as good as new. Curfew was still about an hour away and Nina was sitting by her sister's side when one of the other female orphans came upstairs. She noticed Nina sitting there and looked around nervously; if her sister hadn't been lying there so sickly Nina would have found it amusing. She could see that Mary was worried about what Mina might be doing, since she only saw Nina. But it didn't take long before Mary noticed who was lying in the bed. She approached them cautiously and looked Mina over before speaking to her twin sister. "What happened to her?" the concern in her voice was genuine, and it made Nina smile however briefly. "She became ill during the session and collapsed." Nina replied without looking away from her sister. "She looks really bad. We should take her to the infirmary." Mary suggested. Nina looked from her sister and sharply replied. "No!" Mary stood there silently; a look of disbelief across her face. "No? You don't want to bring her for the water priestess to look at?" she asked. "They wouldn't help us." Nina insisted. "Of course they would. That's what the priestess is here for." Mary replied. She looked at Nina trying to understand why she didn't want to help her sister get better. "The priestess is with them. When it comes to my sister she can't be trusted any more than those generals; or the soldiers that took us." Nina replied raising her voice. She stood up and confronted Mary whom started to back up instinctively. "I...don't understand." "No you don't; and you will never be able to." Nina said and looked at the ground. "Just leave please. I want to tend to my sister alone." "You really should..." Mary started to say. She stopped because she could see that Nina didn't want to hear it. Quietly she turned around went back downstairs.
The next evening shortly after the last meal; Mary sat at the table of the slowly emptying mess hall with her older brother. After their parents died a few years ago; Ryan was all that she had left. "I need your help with something. I just don't know what I should do." Mary said. "What's bothering you?" Ryan asked. He studied her carefully looking for signs that she had been hurt or otherwise harassed again. "It's not me. It's about the twins in my dorm. One of them has become very sick and her sister doesn't want to bring her to the infirmary. It doesn't feel right..." Mary replied. She looked up at her brother but quickly returned her gaze to the table when she saw that look in his eyes. Ryan clenched his fists at the mention of those twins. "You shouldn't even be talking to them. Don't you remember how they treated you when they arrived at the colony?" it took most of his willpower to control his voice so his sister didn't think he was yelling at her. "They don't do that anymore. " Mary timidly pointed out. "But it shows what type of people they are." Ryan said. He took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. "The one that isn't sick doesn't want to take her sister to the infirmary. So if you try to force the issue; they will just do something terrible to you." "I suppose..." Mary replied. She didn't sound convinced. "It's just...It's just that she looks really sick. If something isn't done then..." "I know you care what happens. That's the kind of girl you are. But it's their choice what happens to them. It's not your place to get involved. If they don't want to go to the infirmary then that's their decision. I'm sorry Mary but there's nothing you can do." Ryan tried to explain. Her brother took her hand into his and squeezed it tightly. She was grateful to have him and returned the gesture with a small amount of pressure of her own. It wasn't much but it was all that she could muster. She knew that he was right. It wasn't her place to force the twins to do anything; but her heart still weighed heavily.
After the nights session her brother had to return to his duties so Mary headed back to her dorm. She ascended the staircase slowly and kept her eye on the bed that Nina was seated next to. The elder twin didn't seem to notice that Mary arrived so she went to her own bed and sat down. "Mina barely looks like she's breathing." Mary thought looking at the bed with the younger twin in it. She kept her brothers words in her mind, but when she looked at the unmoving form of Mina. It was difficult to ignore the heavy feeling in her chest. Mary sat there only a few minutes before she could no longer bear to see Mina in such a condition. She tried to keep her mind off it by looking around the room. Examining the walls as if it was the first time she ever saw them; and even turning to the limited view she got of the window from her bed. Sitting on the bed the window didn't offer her much comfort. She could see the tops of some of the men's dorms across the bonfire; it was lit so she could see the glow at the bottom of the window and the pillar of smoke trying to escape the tree line. She tried not to return her attention to the twins; but the three of them were alone up here and she had nowhere else to go tonight. Nina just sat there without moving or making a sound. Mary wanted to say something to break the silence and maybe get Nina's mind off her sister for a few minutes. But she didn't know what she could say that wouldn't just make things worse. She didn't even recognise the girl she was looking at when Mary's eyes fell on Nina's pale face; the blank, dead expression; and the way her body just seemed to limply hang off the chair. It only took a few; long minutes before Mary wasn't able to watch anymore. She quietly got off the edge of her bed and walked back downstairs. Mary left the dorm building and walked straight to the infirmary without stopping or slowing down. She walked fast and was breathing a little harder by the time she reached the front desk. It was empty as usual; no one really knew why a reception desk had been built. So far the colony didn't have a receptionist for the infirmary. Mary found the active water priestess in the back of the infirmary. She was checking out the supplies in the closet. "Miss Akane?" Mary asked quietly. She didn't need to ask, she visited often enough to help out that she knew all the staff well. "Young Wilcox? What can I do for you?" Akane questioned. "I need help in the children's dorm. One of the girls is sick but she has no parents to bring her in. only her sister; but Nina refuses to allow it." May replied quickly. Her voice was shaking and she looked around a lot expecting that Nina was going to jump out of nowhere and hurt her. "She refuses to allow her sister to come here?" Akane asked puzzled. "Kind of. Mina is too sick to leave her bed, but her sister won't bring her here because she's afraid." Mary tried to explain. "Please head back to the dorm; I'm going to get some help and will be there shortly." Akane promised. Mary nodded her head and almost ran back to the dorm.
Nina didn't know how long Mary was gone for; she barely even noticed that the other girl had left. She did however take notice when Mary returned. It was only a few short minutes after she came back up the stairs that the priestess of water, two soldiers, and the general Nina recognised as Dawn Frost came charging up after her. Nina turned her attention away from her sister to give Mary a cold look before focusing her attention on Dawn. She didn't say anything to them; only watched them to see what they would do. "She looks bad. I need to get her back to the infirmary." Akane said. She tried to approach Mina to take a better look at her but she was stopped by Nina as she stood up and whispered something. She got directly between the group and her sister. "Move out of the way girl. We can't do anything for her here." One of the soldiers said. "no..." Nina whispered. This time it was just loud enough for them to hear. "Please get out of the way. They need to help her." Mary spoke up. Her voice trembled but she stood her ground this time. "no!" Nina repeated louder. The group didn't say anything this time but the older twin wasn't finished yet. "No." She repeated raising her voice a little more. It was still difficult for them to hear her. "Let them help her." Mary begged. "NO!" Nina repeated; this time she was loud and clear about it. "All right we heard you. But she is sick and we need to get her to the infirmary." Dawn spoke finally. "You...can't have her!" Nina replied almost shouting it. "That kind of attitudes not going to help her." Dawn replied. "I won't let you take her away from me. This is your fault!" Nina yelled. "If it wasn't for you people we wouldn't be alone. If it wasn't for you people we wouldn't even be here; we could have been safely at home. If it wasn't for you she wouldn't be sick and I WONT let you take her away." Tears filled her eyes as she raised her voice even more. "I promise you that she will not be harmed. But you must step out of the way for her safety and yours." Dawn tried to reason with her. "I won't let you hurt her!" Nina cried out and charged recklessly at Dawn. The general reacted swiftly; grabbing both of Nina's hands and holding them steady. This gave the soldiers the opening they wanted and with the priestess of waters help they lifted Mina from the bed and carried her away. "No! Leave her alone." Nina screamed and cried. She struggled helplessly against Dawns grip and even tried to kick the general to let her go. But in the end all she could do is watch while her sister was torn away from her. "Relax and I can let you go. The priestess has treated several of these cases and she will be fine." Dawn tried to assure her. When she realised that she wasn't going to fight her way out; Nina fell limp in Dawns grip. She didn't trust a word the general was saying but she could do nothing now. "What's going to happen to her? You must understand she..." Mary spoke softly. It hurt to watch Nina breakdown like that; the sisters had always seemed so strong; so brave before. But now in her grief Nina had attacked one of the leaders of the colony. "The rules state that despite the reasons she attacked a member of the colony and must be confined to the brig for several days. However those rules do not account for situations such as this. I can't overlook that her motives are founded in grief and not criminal in nature. Therefore once she has calmed down I will not speak of it again." Dawn replied. She looked directly in Nina's eyes and added. "Tread carefully. This is not a free pass to do anything you want. You will not be extended this courtesy again." She warned. Dawn decided that the teenager wasn't going to fight her anymore so she helped Nina to sit back down. "I need to alert the others of the situation but I will be back later to check on you and your sister." Dawn said. She waited only a couple of minutes to confirm that Nina wouldn't respond before leaving the girls building. After Dawn was gone Nina found the strength to stand up again. She looked at Mary like she was trying to burn a hole in her forehead with her eyes. She took a step closer but stopped to speak. "You. You did this." "There was no other choice." Mary replied quietly. She barely finished speaking when Nina took two quick steps closer and slapped her hard across the face. "There is always another choice. Now my sister is gone because you couldn't leave her alone." Nina spat out. "You're upset; and you aren't thinking clearly." Mary tried to defend herself. It took all her strength not to run away; instead she braced herself to be struck again. "Leave. Get out of my sight." Nina said turning away instead of hitting her again. It would have done nothing to ease the pain; or bring her sister back to her. "If you really want me to I will leave. But you keep talking like you will never see her again. It isn't like that. We could go see her now even." "You don't understand." Nina replied. "What it's like to have a twin sister? No I don't understand. But I do know what it's like to be brought somewhere I don't want to be. To feel like there is only one person you can trust." Mary said softly. She turned around to leave but had one more thing to add. "I'm going to go to the infirmary to see her. You can come with me if you like. Or you can stay here and sort things out." Nina clenched her fists; she wanted Mary to be right. She wanted there to be a chance that she would see her sister again. She just had so much mistrust for the people that had taken them. The colony already took their parents away and left them both alone. What else could she do? The only other choice she had was to give up and lose her sister for sure. "I'll go with you." Nina said quickly so she wouldn't lose her courage. "I was hoping that you would." Mary replied. She turned around and took Nina's hand for physical and emotional support while they made the intimidating walk to the infirmary.
Nina and Mary could hear movement from the back the moment they entered the infirmary; other than that however the place seemed like it had been closed down for the night. They made their way to the back area where Akane was standing over Mina with some damp cloths in her hand. She turned to look at who just joined her and rushed towards them. "I'm afraid she can't have visitors yet. She needs to rest so you will have to return tomorrow after morning meal." Akane said quickly but with a soothing voice. "I wanted you to be right. But I can see now that you just don't understand what these people are." Nina said dropping her eyes to the floor. She couldn't stand to look at either Mary or the Priestess. Mary glanced at Nina and quickly looked away. She had a dreaded feeling she knew what was going on inside Nina's mind and she thought she might have made it worse. She had to act; this much she knew but what could she do to make things right? "Priestess if I may speak up." She said trying hard to meet Akane's eyes. "Of course you may." Akane replied. "It would be a mistake to keep them separate. Mina and her sister are very close; and if she's to recover I think she needs her sister by her side." Mary explained. Akane looked like she was thinking about it. Mary spent enough time helping the priestess however to recognise that she had doubts. "I don't think they have ever been apart before." She added helpfully. Akane was still about to reject the idea. She had heard of situations where a loved one aided in recovery of course; but there was never any proof that's what happened in those cases. But she took a good long look at Nina and realised just how much the child was suffering. Even if it wouldn't help Mina it was Nina herself that needed this the most. The teenager looked broken; like she had almost completely given up on seeing her sister alive again. It struck her that there was a very real possibility that Nina's health would disintegrate, or she could do something dangerous if she wasn't allowed to be by her sister's side. "I'm afraid you will have to go. " She said looking directly at Mary. "Nina can stay for as long as she needs to. But having two visitors hanging around might be too much for my patient. " Mary smiled at her. She could see Nina perk up slightly. "Thank you Priestess. I am more than happy to come back tomorrow if she can stay." Nina barely had the energy to look at Mary. The events of the past couple hours drained her physically and mentally but she forced herself to. "Thank you Mary." She said in a low whisper. "I hope your sister gets better soon." Mary said. She took a chance and gave Nina a friendly hug. Any other day; or any other moment and she would have been too afraid to do such a thing; especially towards one of these twins. But she today Nina needed it. "I better leave before the Priestess changes her mind." Mary said with a weak smile. Before she left however she helped Nina reach the bed her sister was now lying in and sat her down. Then she quietly headed back to the dorm.
Nina was sitting at her sister's side the following evening when she noticed Mary enter the infirmary and approach them. She stood quietly until Nina gave her a weak smile to encourage her that she could speak without fear. "It's almost evening meal. You should come eat something." Mary told her. "It's that late already?" Nina asked. It was difficult to keep track of time inside the infirmary and the Water Priestess hadn't mentioned anything. "You won't help Mina if you faint from hunger." Mary pointed out. Nina thought about it for a few minutes; she didn't want to leave her sisters side but on the other hand she felt that Mary might be right; she had not eaten since her sister got sick. She hadn't come to a decision yet when they were joined by another person. "Nina Munro. I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to come with me. "Dawn Frost said flatly. "Why?" Mary asked giving the general a puzzled look. "You are to be confined to the brig for four days. I warned you that your sister getting sick would not be a free pass to do as you pleased. The... creative artwork you left in the bath house has been discovered." Dawn said. "What are you talking about... you mean that?" Nina questioned. With everything that had happened she almost forgot about it completely. Mary looked at Dawn, then Nina, and finally at Mina laying motionless in the bed. She didn't understand what was going on here but she felt that she needed to help. "Miss Frost. It wasn't her I'm the one that's responsible." Nina glared at her. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, but do you even know what she's talking about?" she challenged. "Well..." Mary stuttered. "General Frost I assure you that it's not what you think it is." Nina attempted to explain. Hunger and worry sapped the energy from her voice. "Then it would be in your best interest to explain." Dawn replied. "My sister and I were just fooling around with that picture. We intended to paint over it yesterday or today when we finished the job. But she got sick and we never got the chance to go back." Nina told her. "I promise it was never meant to be seen." "Then why do it in the first place?" Dawn asked. "We got bored; we decided to fool around and thought it would be fun to make a hidden picture." Nina explained trying hard to keep her calm. She wasn't sure if she would be able to convince the general of anything. Fortunately for her Mary seemed to voice her deepest fears. "Miss Frost I confess I don't know what you found. But she couldn't have meant any harm with it; and they need each other right now. It would be cruel to lock her in the brig while she worries for her sister." Mary spoke up timidly. "You shouldn't get involved." Nina said defeated. She stood up and looked at the general. If it had been another time she may have been doing this to create confusion; but today she simply didn't have the energy to fight. "Take me if you want, she's not getting any better." There was no life in her words. "Miss Frost; you cant. I'll go in her place." Mary spoke up quickly. Her heart skipped a beat as she realised what was going to happen if Nina went into that cell. It had already been days since the twin eaten anything; in confinement she would only make herself sick. Dawn thought about it for awhile; once again the rules were clear about what she needed to do but the situation wasn't so clean cut. "I'm not going to let you take her place. You have done nothing wrong." She said firmly. She didn't give either of the girls a chance to protest before finishing. "However I am also not going to allow her to kill herself in the brig. There are too many uncertainties in this to allow punishment that severe. So I'm going to suspend punishment for the time being. I will have someone look into the matter more closely to determine if you are telling the truth. If this is just a harmless game that was left unfinished nothing will happen. If however it's determined otherwise then you will both spend time in the brig once your sister has recovered." Dawn decided. "Thank you Miss Frost." Mary said. Nina breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "That's fair; and it really was just a game. It would have been erased by now if we had been working on it. But whatever you decide; we are more than willing to take responsibility when my sister has recovered. "Nina promised. To prove that she was serious she added. "You don't even have to waste time looking into it. When I have her back; we will gladly serve our time." "I will take that into consideration." Dawn replied and left the infirmary. After she was gone Nina looked at Mary and shook her head with disappointment. "I know your heart was in the right place and you just wanted to help. But that was a stupid thing to do." "I'm sorry..." Mary peeped. "You didn't even know what she was accusing me of doing or how serious it was. What would you have done if they decided to have you flogged publicly for it? Or if they found out afterwards that you lied?" Nina asked. "I don't know...I just couldn't..." Mary quietly replied. Even as nervous as she was it was still nice to see that Nina was feeling so much better than she did last night. "Thank you for what you tried to do; but think about things more carefully." Nina said giving Mary a genuine smile. "I'll keep it in mind. But now that she's gone we should head to the mess hall." Mary replied. "I'm going to skip meal tonight I think and watch over Mina. But you better go." "All right; But I'm going to talk to them after evening meal and see if I can bring you something." Mary promised before rushing out before Nina could refuse. Nina weakly smiled at the departing teenager and turned back to her sister. She took her usual seat again and sat watching Mina sleep peacefully. There wasn't any reason for it; but somehow she knew that her sister was comforted by her presence.

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